Today’s Homes Burn Faster

A fire in a modern home is a “perfect storm,” according to safety consulting and certification company UL (Underwriters Laboratories). Larger homes, more open layouts, new construction materials and other factors mean fires burn more quickly, leaving less time for occupants to escape — and for firefighters to stop the flames. How much less time? About 30 years ago, you had about 17 minutes to get out of the house once it caught fire. Today? Just three or four minutes.

A lot goes into creating that “perfect storm,” experts say. Here are some key factors:

  • Building materials. Particle board and other man-made materials, which are lighter and cheaper than natural wood, often are used to construct homes today. This leads to larger homes at a lower cost, but they also burn more quickly than solid wood, concrete or masonry.
  • More space — and more stuff. Fires can spread quickly in homes that are largely open, with high ceilings, etc. And homes that are bigger typically have more things in them — which means there’s more fuel for the fire.
  • Newer stuff. The old days of couches, carpets, etc., made from all-natural materials are long gone. That’s great news for durability and price, but it’s not great for limiting fires. Though many modern furnishings are excellent at resisting smoldering (such as if a cigarette is dropped), once they actually catch fire, they burn very quickly.

What can you do? Well, unless you’re having a house built or doing an extensive remodel, you can’t really change the materials used to construct your home. However, there are a few things you should do immediately to help keep you and your family safe, no matter where you live:

  • Make sure your smoke detectors are in working order.
  • Create an escape plan for you and your family.
  • Place fire extinguishers on each level of your home, as well as in the garage.

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5 Fire Safety Tips For Your Home

Equipping your home with the right fire safety equipment can help you gain precious seconds in a fire emergency. Be sure your home includes the following equipment, that you (and your family) know how to use it.

What to Include in Your Home Fire Safety Kit

1. Smoke Alarms
The single most important piece of fire safety equipment you can have in your home is a smoke alarm. A properly working smoke alarm can cut your risk of dying in a fire by half.1 Be sure you have smoke alarms on every level of your house, especially outside rooms where family members sleep. Test and clean them with a vacuum every month, and replace the batteries twice a year. And install new smoke alarms every 10 years.

2. Automatic Fire Sprinkler System
It’s important to note that an automatic fire sprinkler system won’t necessarily extinguish every fire that starts in your home. But it will reduce the amount of harmful smoke and gases so you can get out of the house. Some sprinkler systems can also be connected to your alarm system, so it’ll call the fire department if a fire starts.

3. Fire Extinguisher
You should have at least one fire extinguisher in your home. Extinguishers with A-B-C ratings are effective against ignited cloth, wood, paper, rubber, and plastics (A), flammable liquids like gasoline, alcohol and oil-based paints (B), and energized electrical equipment (C).

What to do when using a fire extinguisher:

  • First call the fire department.
  • Use an extinguisher only on small fires with minimal smoke.
  • If you’re dealing with a liquid fire, use the extinguisher only if you can eliminate of the source of fuel. Otherwise, immediately get out of the house.
  • Remember “PASS”: Pull the pin. Aim low. Squeeze. Sweep.
  • If you can’t put out the fire within the eight seconds it takes to empty the extinguisher, take immediate steps to get out safely.

4. Fire Escape Ladders
If you have a two-story (or more) home, you need fire escape ladders in every upstairs bedroom. They come folded into permanent or portable boxes that you can store under a window or bed. During a fire, if all other exits are blocked, you can drop the ladder out of the window and climb down to safety. Fire escape ladders are either 15 feet (for second-story windows) or 25 feet long (third floor).

Pro Tip: Make sure your ladder has a stable standoff, which is the support arm system at the top that holds the ladder away from the side of the house to steadies it and make escape quicker for you.

5. Fireproof Safe
The most valuable of your possessions should be in a safety deposit box at the bank. But if there are certain things you want to protect and also keep close, you need a fireproof safe. Depending on what’s kept in there, you can get a safe that’s guaranteed not to get hotter than 125 degrees (DVDs, computer disks) or 350 degrees (papers). Most fireproof safes offer 30 minutes of protection.

Once you have all of the right fire safety equipment in place, don’t forget to create and practice your home fire escape plan. Having the right fire safety equipment can help reduce your family’s risk of injury and property damage due to a serious fire. Or at the very least, you’ll be warned and have time to get out.

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Washer & Dryer Maintenance

Washers and dryers were involved in one out of every 22 home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments between 2006 and 2010. Incidents of clothes dryer fires are higher in the fall and winter months and peak in January, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The leading cause of clothes dryer fires is a failure to clean the dryer of dust, fiber and lint. Lint is highly combustible and can lead to reduced airflow, posing a fire hazard in clothes dryers.Here are several safety tips for properly maintaining your washer and dryer:

Ensure proper installation
Be sure to have your washer and dryer installed and serviced by a professional. Check your washer and dryer manuals to ensure that your electrical outlet is appropriate for your plugs. If you have a gas dryer, have it inspected by a professional to make sure the gas line and connection are working properly and don’t have leaks.

Maintain the lint filter
Always clean the lint filter before drying each load of laundry. If you are drying a new item that creates a lot of lint, such as a bath towel or bath mat, consider drying it for half a cycle and then pause to clean out the lint filter before continuing to dry the item. Regularly check the dryer’s drum for lint accumulation.

Inspect the vent
The dryer vent is located outside of your house. It’s a good idea to periodically check to make sure air is coming out of the vent while clothes are drying. If no air is coming out of the vent, turn off the dryer and inspect the vent for blockage. Accumulated lint, a bird’s nest or even small animals can block vents.

Check the exhaust duct
Make sure the duct that runs from the back of your dryer to your wall and outside to your dryer vent isn’t clogged with lint or debris. If there is a blockage, you may have to remove the duct to clean it out. Consult with a professional before making any changes to your dryer’s exhaust duct.

Basic washer and dryer safety tips
Follow these basic safety tips when using your washer and dryer.

  • Don’t overload.
  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions.
  • Don’t run the washer or dryer when you aren’t home or when you are sleeping.
  • Keep the entire area clean and free of clutter, boxes and other materials.
  • Don’t store items on the top of the washer and dryer.
  • Consult the operating instructions prior to washing or drying an item that has been soiled with chemicals such as gasoline, cooking oil or paint.

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Types of Fire Extinguishers

A fire is a fire, and a fire extinguisher is a fire extinguisher, right? Well, not quite. There are actually different types of fires and different types of extinguishers that respond best to each. So, which is right for you? We’ll get to that, but first let’s look at the five different fire types, as outlined by the Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association:

  • Class A: Fires in ordinary combustibles, such as wood, paper, cloth, etc.
  • Class B: Fires in flammable liquids, like gasoline, or flammable gasses, such as propane.
  • Class C: Fires in energized electrical equipment, such as appliances or motors.
  • Class D: Fires in combustible metals.
  • Class K: Fires in cooking oils and greases, such as animal and vegetable fats.

Selecting a Fire Extinguisher

For each fire class, there’s a fire extinguisher to match, and it’s important to use the right one. For example, an extinguisher rated for Class B fires only might not be appropriate to use on another fire. In fact, it might even be dangerous. So, how do you pick a fire extinguisher? Do you need several? A good bet is a multipurpose extinguisher, which typically is rated for Class A, B and C fires and available at home improvement stores. This type of extinguisher is typically good for general living areas and will work on small grease fires, as well. Specialized kitchen extinguishers are available, too. (Note: Class K extinguishers are typically for large commercial kitchens.)

No matter which type you choose, you want:

  • An extinguisher that’s large enough to put out a small fire but not too heavy to handle safely.
  • One that carries the label of an independent testing laboratory.
  • One for each level of your home, as well as in the garage.

Using a Fire Extinguisher

Before you use a fire extinguisher — or try to fight a fire with any method — make sure you consider the following questions:

  • Is the fire small and contained?
  • Are you safe from toxic smoke?
  • Do you have a way to escape?
  • Do your instincts tell you it’s OK?

If you’ve answered “yes” to those questions, the National Fire Protection Association recommends remembering “P.A.S.S.” when it’s time to use your extinguisher:

  • Pull the pin.
  • Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever.
  • Sweep the hose from side to side. Once the fire is out, remain aware, because it can re-ignite.

Maintaining a Fire Extinguisher

It’s easy to just put an extinguisher in your kitchen cabinet and forget about it. But, by doing that, you run the risk of it not working when you need it most. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, some need to be shaken monthly, and others need to be pressure tested periodically. Follow the instructions on your specific extinguisher. Also, check regularly to make sure it’s not damaged, rusted or dirty.

Remember, a fire extinguisher won’t do you any good if it doesn’t work, and it won’t help if you can’t get to it, either. So, ensure it’s in an accessible place, not buried in the back of a closet. Finally, don’t ever forget that sometimes your best bet is not using an extinguisher at all. It’s using your family escape plan to get you and your loved ones out of danger. If there’s any doubt, get out!

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Deep Fried Turkey Safety

It’s hard to beat the speed of deep-frying a turkey—or the irresistible flavor and juiciness that result. But turkey fryers have the potential to cause fire and serious injury, which is why organizations like Underwriters Laboratories and the National Fire Protection Association advise against using them. If you plan to deep-fry your holiday bird, be sure you know how to safely use the fryer, and take these precautions to protect yourself, your guests and your home:

  1. Keep outdoor fryers off decks, out of garages and a safe distance away from trees and other structures.
  2. Make sure the turkey is thawed and dry before cooking. Ice or water that mixes into the hot oil can cause flare-ups.
  3. Watch the weather. Never operate a fryer outdoors in the rain or snow.
  4. Place the fryer on a level surface, and avoid moving it once it’s in use.
  5. Leave 2 feet between the tank and the burner when using a propane-powered fryer.
  6. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid overfilling. Oil can ignite when it makes contact with the burner.
  7. Choose a smaller turkey for frying. A bird that’s 8 to 10 pounds is best; pass on turkeys over 12 pounds.
  8. Never leave fryers unattended.
  9. Purchase a fryer with temperature controls, and watch the oil temperature carefully. Cooking oil that is heated beyond its smoke point can catch fire. If you notice the oil is smoking, turn the fryer off.
  10. Turn off the burner before lowering the turkey into the oil. Once the turkey is submerged, turn the burner on.
  11. Wear goggles to shield your eyes, use oven mitts to protect your hands and arms and keep a grease-rated fire extinguisher close by.
  12. Skip the stuffing when frying turkey, and avoid water-based marinades.
  13. Keep children and pets away from the fryer at all times.
  14. Once finished, carefully remove the pot from the burner, place it on a level surface and cover to let the oil cool overnight before disposing.
  15. Opt for an oil-less fryer. This uses infrared heat, rather than oil, to cook the turkey.

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Firework Safety Tips

With Independence Day approaching, comes celebrations that will include fireworks. Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks – devastating burns, other injuries, fires, and even death.

  • Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks.
  • Know your fireworks; read the cautionary labels and performance descriptions before igniting.
  • A responsible adult SHOULD supervise all firework activities.  Never give fireworks to children.
  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix.  Save your alcohol for after the show.
  • Wear safety glasses when shooting fireworks.
  • Light one firework at a time and then quickly move away.
  • Use fireworks OUTDOORS in a clear area; away from buildings and vehicles.
  • Never relight a “dud” firework.  Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
  • Always have a bucket of water and charged water hose nearby.
  • Never carry fireworks in your POCKET or shoot them into METAL or GLASS containers.
  • Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.
  • Dispose of spent fireworks by wetting them down and place in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until the next day.
  • FAA regulations PROHIBIT the possession and transportation of fireworks in your checked baggage or carry-on luggage.
  • Report illegal explosives, like M-80s and quarter sticks, to the fire or police department.

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Fall Fire Safety Tips

As the summer is behind us and fall is approaching, take a few moments to review some fall fire safety tips that can prevent disasters in your home.

Home heating

As we prepare to fire up the furnace for another season of hard work, it is important to have your system professionally inspected, cleaned and serviced. Filters need to be changed or cleaned, and make sure combustibles are stored at least 3 feet from the furnace. Have any alternative heating sources checked out as well, such as wood-burning stoves.

Space heaters

Before plugging in your space heaters for the first time, inspect them for damage, check the cords and know how to operate the units safely. Make sure that an adult is keeping an eye on the heaters when they are in use, and keep them away from combustibles and out of the path of children and pets. Everyone likes to get close enough to feel the heat, but too close can be dangerous.

Holiday fire safety

November, December and January account for a larger percentage of residential structure fires than any other three months in the year. Keep decorations away from exit paths, and check cords for fraying before plugging them in for the holiday.

Smoke alarms

Having working smoke alarms in your home give you the best chance of escaping a home fire alive. While some people remove the batteries from smoke alarms because they activate during cooking, you should try to move the alarm farther from the kitchen and make sure you have plenty near and in the sleeping areas of your home. In addition, you should:

Replace the batteries at least once a year.

Clean dust from smoke alarms with a vacuum attachment.

Replace units that are over 10 years old.

Push the test button monthly to ensure proper operation.

Have an outside meeting place where your family will meet in case of an unwanted fire. Run through some practice drills to make sure everyone knows what to do and where to go.

Carbon monoxide alarms

Carbon monoxide, or CO, alarms are an important part of your home safety plan. They detect unburned gases that may leak from gas burning appliances. They must also be tested monthly and have batteries replaced annually.

Candles

Many people use candles in their holiday decorating to create a festive and warm atmosphere. In many cases, candles can lead to home fires when they are left unattended and ignite nearby combustibles. Use sturdy candle holders that are large enough to collect candle wax and are resistant to tipping over. Keep candles up and out of the reach of children, and do not allow candles in the bedrooms.

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